It’s hard to imagine a more cynical communications strategy than targeting small children behind their parents’ backs, lying to them, and then misleading a national TV audience about it all. But that’s just what People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has done in a pair of high-profile interviews.

Last week when CNN anchor Heidi Collins asked PETA campaign director Bruce Friedrich where his group was distributing its “Your Daddy Kills Animals” comics, he cited only “tackle shops” and “fishing piers” — dodging well-deserved criticism for PETA’s targeting children at their schools. And last night Friedrich told MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson that PETA was justified in giving its grotesque materials to children because it “focus grouped” the material. Carlson’s response? “Even in Washington, a focus group is not a moral justification.” Carlson continued, speaking for parents everywhere:

I’m offended by this. I can’t believe actually that you put this out. This is an attack on fathers aimed at children. How could you do this? … I assume you have no children, right? You couldn’t. Nobody with children would put this out, because that’s the kind of thing that gives kids nightmares.

Friedrich’s spin didn’t stop with PETA’s methods. He told CNN that “there aren’t any scientists, not even one, anywhere in the country” who believe that fish don’t feel pain. Not even one? He conveniently forgot about the University of Wyoming’s Dr. James Rose (a leader in fish biology with three decades of experience), whose research confirms that fish lack the neural hardware to experience pain. And what about Dr. Bruno Broughton, who called pain in fish “a psychological experience for which they — literally — do not have the brains?

Last night on MSNBC Friedrich went off the rails completely, insisting: “If you’re feeding your kid tuna or salmon or fish sticks,” Friedrich said, “you’re feeding your kid poison.” Friedrich later claimed that “the Environmental Protection Agency [says] that if you eat any fish as few as two times a week, you will have measurable decrease in your cognitive function.” These would be remarkable findings if they were true — which, of course, they’re not.

As Americans have been flooded with anti-fish messages, it’s become easy to forget that the health benefits of eating fish far outweigh any health risk that PETA (or other activist groups) might carp about. Harvard University’s Dr. Eric Rimm told The New York Times in 2004 that “the message of fish being good has been lost,” and Americans are learning more about “the hypothetical scare” than the well-documented benefits of eating fish. And University of Rochester Professor of Environmental Medicine Dr. Thomas Clarkson reports that “[e]ating lots of ocean fish isn’t much of a hazard compared to missing out on the benefits from not eating fish.

In PETA’s world, basic truth takes a back seat to the almighty sound-bite. Dropping his guard for a moment, last year Friedrich explained (to an animal-rights Internet mailing list) the strategy behind PETA’s claims that fish is poison. “For people who don’t care about the suffering of fish,” Friedrich wrote, “I suspect this will terrify them into not eating them.